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EC O-T-C: What Exactly Does This Mean?

Posted by Ryan Morgan on September 23, 2013 at 10:12 AM
india walters picBy India Walters With the rapid changes regarding EC restrictions over the past several months, advocates and health professionals have had to distinguish further what it means for EC to be OTC (“over-the-counter”). In previous years, most people would just use the term OTC (“over-the-counter”) to refer to the point that EC was available behind the pharmacy counter for those meeting the required age restrictions to have access to EC, without a prescription. But just what does the term OTC mean now since the FDA has approved the Plan B One-Step EC pill to be made available OTC for everyone of any age? Well, I’m glad you should ask… OTC, as this point in time for EC, essentially means that as long as the local pharmacy (not necessarily the pharmacy counter) is opened, the Plan B One-Step EC pill option will be available “on the shelves” for anyone to purchase regardless of age. For example, this brand of EC is offered directly on the shelves in the feminine hygiene aisle by your favorite ribbed, flavored and tribal print condoms! The generic versions of the EC, such as Next Choice and My Way, are only available “behind the counter”, meaning that a pharmacy personnel will be the one to provide you with these options directly at the pharmacy counter upon request and providing that you meet the age requirement of being 17 years and older. As of the present time, if the pharmacy counter is closed, those not offered OTC (a.k.a “on the shelves”), such as the Next Choice and My Way options, will not be accessible; this is a major difference between Plan B One-Step and the generic options. One should additionally note that the EC Pill Ella, is still only available with a prescription for those 17 years and older. So what the exclusivity for just the Plan B One-Step EC pill to be sold OTC, well a wonderful document on the History of EC created by the Charleston County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Council puts it best in the “the FDA formally approved the application for Plan B One-Step from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and these other forms of EC will have to be submitted to the FDA for approval. Actavis Inc. markets a generic version of Plan B One-Step called Next Choice. Actavis will apply to the FDA for approval to sell Next Choice without restrictions, as will Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the manufacturer of Ella.” So short and sweet, according to the FDA, Teva Pharmaceuticals has been the only pharmaceutical company to submit their application to the FDA which provides sufficient research to prove that their EC product is safe and effective for young women of any age to use, and thus making that argument that it should be made available without age restrictions. While the latest piece of legislation to allow the Plan B One-Step EC pill to be made available OTC (a.k.a “on the shelves”) is fairly new as of June 20th, 2013, we are glad to see that many pharmacies are already carrying it on the shelves. Although there is much room to cheer, unfortunately, in most pharmacies the Plan B One-Step is being sold in locked boxes for security and loss prevention purposes; however, this does not change the fact that the Plan B One-Step EC pill is still referred to as OTC (a.k.a “on the shelves”). So let’s put this potential barrier (to some) in a favorable context, it is not unlike buying your favorite pair of pants at a trendy store, and having to have the security tag removed before leaving the store. We can even take this idea a step further and attempt to look on the bright side. Wouldn’t you much prefer to have the EC pill in its own individual lock box, as opposed to having it in a security lock rack of which you may have to call a staff person over “for assistance” to open the rack or either having to hear that annoying and blatantly obvious loud noise that some lock box racks make when trying to get your most durable razors, for example? In comparison, having to wait the extra 5 seconds to have the EC box removed from it’s individuals lock box at the general pharmacy check out counter, pales in comparison. Let’s face it, while lock boxes may seem like another barrier to obtaining the Plan B One-Step EC pill, it is a great step forward to having EC readily available on the shelves (OTC) during pharmacy store (not necessarily the pharmacy counter) hours to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. One small step for woman, one giant leap for womankind! :) #SCECOTC #reduceunplannedpregnancies. For additional information on the legislation which approved Plan B One-Step for OTC sales without age restrictions, and for FAQs on which particular EC options are available OTC versus at the pharmacy counter, please visit the Not-2-Late and the official Plan B One-Step websites. India Walters is a native of Myrtle Beach, SC. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a BA in Sociology and Masters of Public, in order to continue to pursue her interest of women's sexual and reproductive health. She is currently the Program Associate of the South Carolina Contraceptive Access Campaign where she educates and raise awareness on contraceptive access to prevent unplanned pregnancies and STDs.  Be sure to follow the SC Contraceptive Access Campaign on Facebook!

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